We all know visiting the dentist twice a year helps keep teeth clean and cavities filled, but that trip to the dentist’s chair can also help prevent other serious and deadly health conditions.
Regular visits to the dentist are an integral part of preventive care. In addition to examining teeth, dentists also look at their patients’ gums, and that’s where they can find evidence of other health problems. Periodontal (gum) disease can affect other health systems and serve as an indicator of other health problems. Here are some of the conditions that have been linked to gum disease.
The link between heart disease and gum disease has been disputed in the medical community.
The American Heart Association says there is no convincing evidence that shows gum disease actually causes heart disease and says people interested in reducing their risk of heart disease would be better served focusing on the well-known causes of heart disease such as hypertension, obesity, and high cholesterol.
Although brushing and flossing may not prevent heart disease, the presence of gum disease is still a good indicator that a patient may have heart problems. Studies have shown the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease, cavities, and missing teeth, are as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.
A recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that men who have a history of gum disease could be at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Researchers studied data from 51,000 male patients, and after adjusting for age, smoking history, diabetes, obesity, diet and other potential contributors to pancreatic cancer, they found men with a history of gum disease had a 64 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer than men without a history of gum disease.
As with heart disease, there is no definitive evidence that gum disease causes cancer, but researchers speculate gum infections could cause inflammation throughout the body, which could promote cancerous growth.
Proper oral hygiene can reduce the risk of premature labor and low-birth-weight babies.
According to research, bacterial plaque that cause inflammation in the gums can actually get into the mother’s bloodstream and target the fetus, leading to premature labor and low-birth-weight babies.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAP) created oral health guidelines for pregnant women in 2009, which advise expectant mothers to use remove bacterial plaque through brushing, flossing, and using alcohol-free fluoride rinse.
According to research, people with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than people without diabetes. The AAP estimates the reason could be that people with diabetes are more susceptible to contracting infections.
Interestingly, the inverse is also true. Gum disease may make it difficult for patients to control their blood sugar, thus raising their diabetes risk.
Bacteria present in gum disease may trigger the formation of blood clots, which can contribute to stroke.
A study published in 2011 concluded that gum disease is an evident independent risk factor for nonfatal ischemic stroke. High blood pressure and diabetes are well known risk factors for stroke, but researchers gum disease’s contribution to stoke risk is almost same as that of hypertension and higher than that of diabetes.
So next time you sit in the dentist chair, remember that it’s not just for your smile; it’s also for your health.